Rep. Dana Rohrabacher — whose name crops up tangentially in the Russia probes — has a unique public profile that could get him more national attention in the coming months.
As a veteran elected official, Rohrabacher (R-California), now 70, has for many years unabashedly urged friendlier relations with the Vladimir Putin regime.
The congressman drew brief mention when Rick Gates, a former Donald Trump campaign operative, pleaded guilty last week to felony conspiracy and making false statements.
Gates’ admittedly false statement involved a meeting five years ago involving Rohrabacher and Gates’ boss, Paul Manafort — the lobbyist and Trump campaign chairman who had consulted the pro-Russia Yanukovych regime in Ukraine.
“Manafort’s an old friend,” Rohrabacher explained to Politico last year of the meeting. “And after the dinner, I think he gave me a very modest campaign contribution.
“In retrospect, I don’t remember him talking about specifically who it was who had given him a contract,” Rohrabacher said of Manafort, currently indicted in a money-laundering scheme.
At some point, special counsel Robert Mueller’s office is expected to ask him questions. Nobody has accused Rohrabacher, a Trump ally, of wrongdoing.
But the lawmaker stands out because his policy on Eastern Europe is rare among congressional Republicans who, for example, have forced Trump to continue sanctions aimed at Putin’s alleged efforts to meddle in U.S. elections.
When Russia in 2008 was condemned by the Bush administration for moving troops into South Ossetia in the Georgian republic, Rohrabacher said, “The Russians are right; we’re wrong.”
In 2012 the FBI warned the congressman that Russian agents were looking to recruit him as an “agent of influence,” The New York Times reported.
When Russia in 2014 raised hackles in the Obama administration by annexing Crimea, Rohrabacher said: “It is clear the people of Crimea would rather be part of Russia than be part of a pro-European or European-directed Ukraine.”
In the spring of 2016, Rohrabacher met in Moscow with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, she told a pro-Russian Crimean news service. They reportedly discussed issues surrounding the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. sanctions measure. (Veselnitskaya was the same lawyer in the widely reported pre-election meeting with Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr.)
In the summer of 2016, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, told GOP colleagues in a tape-recorded conversation: “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.”
McCarthy (R-California) later explained this was “a bad attempt at a joke.”
Last year, Rohrabacher reached out to the White House offering a possible deal to get WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange out of legal trouble — purportedly by offering evidence Russia didn’t provide Assange’s group with hacked Democratic emails.
Apparently his proposals went nowhere.
Whatever Rohrabacher’s role may show, the difference between Soviet and post-Soviet Russia emerges as a big part of his politics.
Back in the days when President Ronald Reagan was famous for calling the Soviets an “evil empire,” Rohrabacher was a Reagan speech writer.